Sixteen years ago, a teenaged Will Sterling saw—or rather, heard—the girl of his dreams. Standing beneath an apartment building balcony, he shared a perfect moment with a lovely, warm-voiced stranger. It’s a memory that’s never faded, though he’s put so much of his past behind him. Now an unexpected inheritance has brought Will back to that same address, where he plans to offload his new property and get back to his regular life as an overworked doctor. Instead, he encounters a woman, two balconies above, who’s uncannily familiar...
No matter how surprised Nora Clarke is by her reaction to handsome, curious Will, or the whispered pre-dawn conversations they share, she won’t let his plans ruin her quirky, close-knit building. Bound by her loyalty to her adored grandmother, she sets out to foil his efforts with a little light sabotage. But beneath the surface of their feud is an undeniable connection. A balcony, a star-crossed couple, a fateful meeting—maybe it’s the kind of story that can't work out in the end. Or maybe, it’s the perfect second chance...
A sparkling and tender novel from the acclaimed author of Love Lettering, full of bickering neighbors, surprise reunions, and the mysterious power of love that fans of Christina Lauren, Sarah Hogle, and Emily Henry will adore.
Kate Clayborn is the critically acclaimed author of six novels. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Oprah Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Bookpage, and more. By day she works in education, and by night (and sometimes, by very early morning) she writes contemporary romances about smart, strong, modern heroines who face the world alongside true friends and complicated families. She resides in Virginia with her husband and their dog.
I’m smiling! My cheeks , my chin, my entire face hurts! The laugh lines at my cheeks look scarier, reminding me of deep lines belongs to something between Nicholson’s Joker blends with Phoenix’s Joker! But I don’t care! I’m feeling so good!
I love reading thrillers to bend my nerves and I love reading feel good romcoms to heal those poor nerves after the destruction those thrillers have made!
And this book is definitely the best cure to calm my nerves, making me sing aloud and rehearse my dance moves ( at COVID days I invented crouching tiger meets twerking panda dance: I plan to show it on a YouTube video but my husband insists the world is not ready for this kind of eye bleeding experience ) ! It’s freaking awesome!
I’m proudly rounding my 4.5 stars to 5! Lovable MCs, more lovable, quirkier but also smarter neighbors made me sing “ A beautiful day in neighborhood” and wear my read sweater.
This sweet, so heartwarming book tells about no matter what family we come from we can choose our own people to love and make them our own family by sharing our true hearts, we can also choose what kind of person we want to be! And we must always give a chance to love by taking risks, learning to be reckless, rash: because a unique love always worths to every risk you take.
Will and Nora met 16 years ago when they were two little teenagers. Will didn’t see Nora’s face, it was too dark to decipher her real figures but he heard her laugh and watched her throw tomatoes at his way to scare the squirrels. And he knew he was in trouble : he already started to fall for her at first! She didn’t realize he was there watching her.
And 16 years later they meet at the same building: but right now they’re too nemesis because Will inherited his recently deceased uncle’s apartment he has never seen for long time ( actually he has seen him very same day he’d fallen for Nora) and he doesn’t want to live there: he wants to rent this place out. Of course the long time inhabitants of the building including Nora don’t want their place turn into an Airbnb friendly motel kind of unit! Nora declares war and does anything she can to stop Will rent his place.
Their frenemies kind of starting with wrong foot relationship eventually turns into good friendship as like Will’s relationship with the other neighbors because even though he is coming from neglecting family and it’s so hard for him to open his heart to people, he cannot resist to the true charm and genuine manners of those lovely people.
From Marian to Salas family, Benny to shy Emily and 80 years old Jonah: all of the characters are realistically portrayed, reminding you of your own family members, neighbors, your colleagues.
Overall: I’m so happy that I loved this book so much more than “Love Lettering”! This time author touched my feelings softly and warmed my heart, gently brushed my soul! She did such an amazing job!
It earned each stars I gave! Maybe it deserved more! I highly recommend to anyone who desperately seeks inspirational, motivational reads and die hard romcom lovers like me!
Special thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for sharing this reviewer digital copy with me in exchange my honest thoughts.
much like my feelings towards hit band The Fray, i hate this book for no particular reason
just... why was this written. who is the target audience. people who like watching paint dry? people that drink glasses of whole milk with meals? accountants?
i don't think i've read a book this inoffensive and this flavorless, like... ever. you've got a dude who inherits an apartment from an uncle he didn't like and barely knew. and we've got a strangely immature heroine who is trying to sabotage the dude's ability to sell the ramshackle unit. it certainly could have been fun, but the author didn't give either of these characters personalities. the closest we get is a mildly sad prologue from the hero's past. that's it.
i wanted to DNF this so so bad, but i'm a glutton for punishment (and ya know, list videos and all that).
i really dont have much to say about this, surprisingly. i mean, i enjoyed the story overall. its cute, its light, it has some adorable moments. but its also a little forgettable? that sounds a bit harsh, but this isnt really something i will be thinking about years to come, if that makes sense.
i found myself much more invested in will and his backstory, and i would have loved to see more of that. actually, i would have had will and nora meet when they were teenagers. i think that would have helped their chemistry, because i found it to be lacking at times. although i do think both of their individual character developments are quite nice.
but other than that, this just feels like any other romance novel. which isnt a bad thing, because i still really enjoyed this whilst reading it in the moment.
I've never been so conflicted post-reading. Love at First is one of the occurrences where I judge a book by its title and I was initially disappointed. However, for some reason, I ended up enjoying this (probably bit way too much).
The romance enthusiast in me knows this book is literally as average as it gets for someone who reads romance all her life but I still can't find myself to rate this lower. This book gives me so many butterflies, my heart just flutters. And I think it has to do with the author's beautiful style of writing that was just so delightful and grounded. At other times, I would dislike this book for how slow it is, but the writing made up for it.
And I adore both Nora and Will so much. I thought this love at first sight wouldn't work since I just don't believe in the overall sentiment. However, Clayborn's romance has a magnificent, boundless hopefulness about it. Almost none of the characters had the life they had envisioned for themselves or would have chosen. Everyone has had their share of grief but Clayborn's language exudes a wonderful feeling of optimism. You'll find yourself enjoying every single moment of it, from the romance to the found family presented in the book.
Instead of making this book stilted and drama-filled, Clayborn chose a heartfelt and emotional plot, which you'll still love for its simplicity. While I'm not entirely fascinated by Romeo and Juliet but when they said Love at First is the comforting rewrite of Romeo and Juliet you didn’t know you needed, I think there's an ounce of truth in it.
This wasn’t a bad book, I just didn’t care? I mean yes it was sweet and i love books with side characters that are like a small community and so neighbourly and on each other’s business. So yes I liked all of that, but my main issue was with the two main characters. They were just so flat. Two dimensional and so repetitieve. I don’t feel like I get to know them no matter how hard i tried. I also found the romance kinda boring, lacking, and with a nonexistent chemistry. When did they start falling for each other? Because I think I missed it. Even the enemies to lovers part felt kinda one-sided? The premise is interesting and the book started out well, but once I get to know the characters I started to dislike it.
Huge thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this copy.
A cute story that has me going back and forth between 3 and 3.5 stars.
Will Sterling first had contact/no contact with Nora Clarke in the form of tomatoes thrown off a balcony when he was a teenager. What? Yes, he heard her sweet voice and felt the falling tomatoes. She had no idea he was there, and he never really saw her because he could not see very well. But she piqued his curiosity. Then, as teenagers do, they both grew up.
Now, sixteen years later as he enters the apartment building his uncle left to him, he recognizes that voice he has never forgotten at the very same apartment building. What luck he has! But will she be happy to meet him when she learns his plans for the building? She is not happy.... but he is so handsome...she is being difficult...but has that voice....
He has plans and she has plans of her own - mainly to sabotage his plans. Then there is the quirky fun group of residents that make up the building. This book was a little bit of a slow burn for me. It is a light book, and it was nice to turn to this in between heavier books and subject matter. Will I remember this book in a year? Not sure, but as I said it was a nice distraction.
Thank you to Kensington Publishing Corporation and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.
This is the sort of truth-telling that not only reflects poorly on this book, but on myself and my character and my intelligence and my morals and who I am as a person.
When I took a gander at my to-review shelf, my daily wander through my unreviewed books, I saw this and - 1) did not know what it was 2) did not recollect reading it 3) could not remember a single thing about its characters, its plotline, its worldly existence.
Nada. Zero. Zilch.
It's a blank spot in the ol' memory.
Then, upon reading the synopsis, it all came rushing back.
And let me tell you, I wish I could file it all back under DO NOT RECALL, because - unfortunately for me, you, the universe, and the story in question - there is nothing memorable or even worth remembering here.
Bottom line: An almost comically forgettable book!
kind of crazy that me and lily are the two most perfect and deserving people alive and yet are constantly suffering.
review to come / 1.5 or 2 stars
----------------- currently-reading updates
welcome to yet another meeting of the Picky Readers Trying To Reform Themselves and Desperately Wanting To Find Another Romance They Like That Isn't The Same One book club
Love at First by Kate Clayborn Contemporary romance. Chicago location. #LoveatFirstNovel Nora inherited her condo/apartment/unit from her grandmother. It’s a small building with elderly owners that have made themselves into a family unit. Will inherits his uncle’s unit and wants only to rent it out. He’s not interested in living in the unit but he does want to get to know Nora better. Will finds himself drawn into building activities with the shared welcome casseroles and the monthly poem readings.
This is a sweet, almost naive and heartbreaking slow build romance. Not clean but not a lot of sexual tension either. It’s a darling story and I loved the pace and the feeling of beloved self-made family throughout. Both Will and Nora have childhood issues to overcome. They ignore but finally resolve. A charming romance feel.
“Two weeks and two days since he had seen her. Not that he was counting. But he was counting.”
I received a copy of this book as part of a contest win by the publisher.
I want to say that if you loved LOVE LETTERING you will also love this but it's not something that I would even compare one to the other. Unless you consider all the emotions I felt for both. In which case yes. Just.. yes.
[..] he couldn't really explain it, the relief he felt. Out of all his visitors today, she was the enemy he should be dreading the most; she was the most dangerous to him. Frankly, she was probably here to finish him off. But he didn't think any of that, at first. He looked up and saw her there and all he could think was : finally. Finally she came.
What I love so much about Clayborn is how quiet her books are even as they yell in your face, in your heart, in your soul. I might even have to call it the Quincy effect. You might end up a mess from the experience but you love it anyway (I swear this'll make sense to people who've read this book, haha, except in this case the mess is tears). But back to my point, few authors I've read have successfully and consistently translated tenderness into text. And I don't mean tender moments.. but she's fully capable of those, too, pure tenderness into a moment between characters, but also in a turn of phrase, an inner thought, the touch of a hand, the desire to suddenly use a term of endearment. There were so many moments in this book (in so many of this author's books, in fact) where I just died quiet little deaths because of how much I was made to feel.
"You don't have to love people the way you learned to love at first."
What sets this apart from LOVE LETTERING, too, is that we get a dual POV this time. And I just.. it was perfect? But the characters are not; they have baggage, flaws, and there is some angst. But it's not big blow ups, dark secrets, epic tragic pasts, huge breakups. It's real slights, tiny devastations, waves of grief, it's learning to let go when you're holding on too tight while at the same time it's also letting yourself hold on instead of drifting away and remaining impermanent.
On a maybe more cheerful note, there's also a wonderfully wholesome element in the secondary cast of characters that bring so much joy and fun to the lives of our leads. I absolutely wanted to jump into these pages and take up residence in one of the units (sorry Nora!) and take part in the hijinks and gossip and community. In the less wholesome category, if you're looking for a solid romance? Attraction, chemistry, push and pull, and steam? There's also that. Because that first kiss? Hoo boy. Might've fogged up the glasses. This also have one of my all-time favourite tropes but I don't even want to mention it and spoil it. That's how good it is. And how much you will enjoy watching it unfold.
I absolutely want everyone to read this and as I write this review it's October twenty-third, which means it's four months to the day before this is even released into the world, which means I'm shouting at my fellow Clayborn lovers to request and read this now. Because I am so alone in my feels and want everyone to experience this. I want everyone to laugh where and when I laughed. Cry where and when I cried. Do the kindle-clutch-to-the-chest during every tender scene (I'm not the only one who does this, I know I'm not!). And just bask in these feelings I feel.
Also, there are kittens. Just incase you needed one more reason to convince you to read it. Kittens.
** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **
A sweet and gentle frenemies to lovers story about love, community, grief and fate
Sixteen years ago Will Sterling almost met the girl of his dreams, outside his estranged uncle's building. Now a doctor, Will unexpectedly inherits his uncle's apartment, and plans to renovate it and rent it out. Nora Clarke, is living in her beloved grandmother's apartment, working remotely for a digital design and marketing agency for sustainability focused brands. Nora is fiercely protective of the building and it's residents. Nora doesn't want Will ruining the close knit community she has found, so declares war, but can they fight their connection?
Told from a third person dual perspective, Love at First was a cosy, romantic tale which felt a bit like getting a warm hug! It was comforting, heartfelt and made my heart feel tender at times!
This was essentially a girl meets boy story, but somehow Kate Clayborn made it feel like much more. It was full of genuine and loveable people, who had delightful relationships and connections, and yet the main characters had flaws, baggage, and were complex. The secondary characters definitely elevated this story, from Nora's quirky neighbours, who were adorable, to Nora's fun best friend Dee. Most of all though, I loved Gerald! Will's boss Gerald Abraham was just the cutest man! I loved how supportive he was of Will, and how their friendship blossomed, despite their apparent differences! And I loved his little side plot with his ex wife Sarah! The assortment of people in both Nora and Will's life were like a kind of found family, and after both not having ideal childhoods, this was so wholesome and good.
Love at First was about self discovery, learning to be yourself, whilst dealing with losing someone, and all the grief, heartbreak and sometimes resentment that comes with that. It was a quiet look at healing, and moving on after losing someone close. Even though Will and Nora didn't get off on the right foot, and had some differences of opinion, they both learnt to start taking risks, showing some vulnerability.
"You don't have to love people the way you learned to love first."
This line kind of broke my heart a little bit! It was perfect for this couple, who after the initial mild pranks, developed respect for each other, were good for each other, and fit well. There was even the odd steamy moment! And that first kiss....
However, even though I enjoyed this, I cannot give it top marks, as I felt there was something holding me back from the main characters. After falling in love with The Switch and Dear Emmie Bluerecently, this one didn't feel as emotional? I didn't connect with the main characters as much, and sometimes they felt a bit flat.
Nevertheless, I liked this easy and comfortable read, and would like to try Love Lettering by this author 🍅🍅🍅 1/2
Many thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the digital ARC, in exchange for an honest review, I enjoyed reading it!
Love at First by Kate Clayborn was an enjoyable read, but at the same time, it never quite hooked me. I liked Nora and Will and their story was sweet, but I never felt truly connected. This one was a little slow moving for me. I enjoy Kate's writing as this is the second book I've read by her, but overall it was just okay for me.
Audio book source: Libby (borrowed) Story Rating: 3.5 stars Narrators: Lauren Ezzo Narration Rating: 3.5 stars Genre: Romance Length: 10 hours and 36 minutes
Such a quintessential Clayborn novel in many ways, and now that she’s written a handful, it’s pretty easy to note her unique stylistic features and themes. I sunk effortlessly into the world she creates here from the first pages and felt comforted by her vision of a world as it could or should be, complete with a community of people who love and support each other as much as the main couple. At times I will admit that I felt that I was waiting for more romantic emotional discord or “angst” and when it didn’t arrive, I could feel a little disappointment hovering in the back of my mind. This is perhaps Clayborn’s quietest novel, or maybe it’s best to say that it’s her most adult one. Taken on its own terms though, quiet has its rewards, especially at the end of a chaotic year, and so I forced myself to let go of a desire for more fraught plotting and relish a subtler love story between people who consciously agree to work through differences and in kindly ways.
As a teen Will had secretly pined for a young woman he had overheard but never actually saw. Years later and as adults in the midst of a love affair, Nora confesses that if Will had seen her in all her awkward teenage-ness, there would have been no unrequited love story. But Will knows that his love for Nora is intrinsic to all of Nora, inside and out, and not to any superficial glimpse of her when she was young. The novel conveys well the idea that their love is based on valuing so many meaningful qualities they find in each other. They love early and resolutely from beginning to end, and there is little doubt of the feelings they have for each other. And yet the conflict in the book takes form primarily in Will’s insecurities of losing himself in love. I have to admit that I am not a fan of books featuring adults who are unable to overcome bad parenting, and this is definitely a book that attributes much of Will’s commitment issues and solitary life choices to neglectful parents. It’s tragic to see adults struggle to overcome childhood problems, and it also makes me fear for significant others who devote themselves to a relationship with that person. Nora’s response to Will’s insecurities truly is the stuff of adult relationship coping at its finest. Perhaps I’m too much of a romance trope reader in that I expected Nora to behave differently any number of times, and my surprise with her is that she is the quietest and kindest of Clayborn’s heroines. She’ll probably end up one of my favorite heroines of 2021. Will earned my sympathy in the end, although I do think I would have enjoyed the resolution of conflict a little more if it didn’t require a bevy of supportive characters sitting the protagonists down for forced epiphanies.
On the topic of supporting characters, they are one of my favorite features of Kate Clayborn novels. As usual, Clayborn represents and in wonderfully subtle ways. Older characters are central, as are an older lesbian couple and a middle-aged couple struggling to rekindle the romance in their lives. Socially awkward introverts such as Will’s boss, Gerald, are priceless. Elderly people are valued. Diversity is just there, as it always is in a Clayborn novel, and it doesn’t need to scream for attention. Didactic authors can learn much from reading the artistry behind Clayborn’s writing. And in what has come to feel to me as a subtle yet powerful nod to urban life, once again she depicts life in a big city as a place where loving families and communities exist. Urban life in America has becomes so politically toxic that simply representing it in a positive light feels charged and important. While this novel wasn’t a perfect read for me, it was nonetheless another lovely book in the Clayborn canon.
I was so very lucky to receive an ARC of one of my most anticipated 2021 romances. I sunk into Love at First (February 2021) by Kate Clayborn this weekend, and it is essentially the electric brush of two lovers' hands captured in perfect book form.
Love at First reminded me of all the romantic touches I've loved in so many different forms of media. From the perfect rhyme in a sonnet, to Romeo falling head over heels at the first sight of Juliet, the Darcy hand flex in 2005's P&P, I highlighted the heck out of my digital copy. There's a perfect line I'm holding close to my heart right now.💓
And while I fell in love with Nora and Will, I also gathered close the residents of Nora's apartment building. The city of Chicago and Midwest sensibilities reminded me of some of my favorite films, especially Batteries Not Included & While You Were Sleeping (the found family and Lucy's loneliness, not the amnesia part). The way grief, family, and learning to love is explored in this book, wow. I'm blown away.
Anyway, I'm a certified Kate Clayborn Fan so I may be a bit biased, but I absolutely loved this book and I really hope you all do too.
2021 - finished the audio book and dare I say fell in love even more with these preciouses? I did.
2023 - reread for two book clubs. firmly in my feels about the way Will's parents are the R+J in this homage (thank you Jacque for this wording!!) and Will is the fallout to their selfish, tempestuous love. I could just re-read this book a million times because it is, to me, poetry itself.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
“It's the golden hour.”
Will is fifteen when his mother takes him to the apartment of an uncle he never even knew existed. He's outside about to talk to a girl on a balcony, that unknowingly dropped tomatoes on his head, when he overhears his mother begging her brother to take him. His uncle refuses saying Will is probably like her, rash, reckless, and selfish. Hearing all this dramatically impacts Will and he decides then and there to grow-up, which he does as his mother and father cling even more to each other through his father's sickness and then the ten months after his father's death, his mother passes away too. When he sends her obituary to the uncle and never hears anything back, Will begins calling himself an orphan at seventeen.
The girl on the balcony from sixteen years ago, and the woman he met this morning. That...could not be.
Nora loves her hour of quiet time on her balcony, four a.m., or the golden hour, as she likes to call it. When the person that inherited the downstairs apartment comes onto their patio, she can't help but try and take a peek. After accidentally knocking some potting soil on him, she meets Dr. Will Sterling. There's an instant awareness but after she inherited this apartment from her nonna, she and the other apartment dwellers are worried about this new guy, they love their little community and don't like change. When Will reveals that he plans on using the apartment as a sort of Airbnb, Nora declares war to get him to change his mind. She first plans to kill him with kindness but when that doesn't work, she plans on showing him how unsuitable this apartment building would feel to vacationers because of how weird and quirky the building dwellers are. It's a battle between two sides that can't help consorting with each other.
Everything he saw when he looked at Nora, it was still a problem: his weakness, his past, his fear for how he figured he was destined to turn out, if he let himself get too close to her.
Love At First, is a story that is all sweetly aching heart. The story fabric is woven a little differently, the set-up alludes to fate and soulmates, so the love between Will and Nora feels present by the third chapter. Since the love already feels developed, their journey is more about navigating the emotional pitfall maze to reach it. Will's parents all consuming loving each other to the point of ignoring him and then his abrupt loss of childhood has made him a self-sufficient but tender and scared to love man. Nora's parents were dedicated to their career but she had her grandmother and the apartment building's residents to create a family with. Their parental similarities and Will's gentle pushing to get Nora to accept change enough to live her own unique life and Nora showing him that human connection doesn't have to be scary showcased how well these two went together.
She laughed quietly, the sound somehow so intimate. What else could it be, really, to laugh with someone in your bed? It felt like the most secret, private, special thing. It felt like a fever dream. She gave up on thinking there was anything normal or casual about it.
Some of the first half had me questioning how Nora and Will already had these deep feelings, which I think is where the soulmates comes in, but the middle had the characters opening up more and layers get colored in and understanding why Nora and Will were the way they were becomes more clear. This story also had some of the best use of secondary characters I have ever read. They were stars in their own right and provided emotional heft not only in support of Nora and Will but the overall story. The residents of the apartment provided heartfelt depth to some of the underlining message of the importance of human connection and how valuable found family is. Gerald, Will's boss, who dances between a pseudo father and friend, ends up slyly softly giving the story and Will one of it's most important messages, that loving can be learned and unlearned, as long as you put the acknowledgment and effort in.
You don't have to love people the way you learned to love at first.
This enemies-to-lovers was all about the gentle emotions instead of sparking heat and it really worked. These two do have some open door bedroom scenes but I got the most hits to the heart when every time Nora made Will feel and that connection made him pull away in fear. Nora and Will's first two meetings, sixteen years apart, were sweetly cute but their second chance romance ending balcony scene, will have your heart aching in all the best ways. If you're looking for something a little quiet, a little soft, and a little subtle, Love At First will deliver.
She thought about his laugh and his way of making conversation with almost anyone; she thought about the secret, tender heart that hid behind his practicality, and she thought about how he pushed her, so gently, in the directions she always wanted to go herself. She thought about the way she wanted him, the way she could be a certain version of herself with him, some different from who she was with anyone else in her life, ever.
Competing with my friend Hollis for complete lack of chill and worrying about expectations if I save it up, it might not hit the same or I might be disappointed, I dove headfirst into this. I'll re-up my comment on her review. By 15%, I wasn't worried. The characters already felt real and rounded, the story line in that killing me softly Kate way meanders pleasantly but purposefully to the point it wasn't clear if I cared if I ever finished the book the characters were so wonderful to spend time with. By about midway, I realized my heart was getting a little fragile and heavy, because Kate Clayborn is nothing if not a sneaky author.
First my feelings on Clayborn are absolutely no secret. She writes ordinary humans doing their best, trying their best, learning they are for each other (and they make extraordinary romances!). Her books have a gentle feel. Even in this sorta-enemies-to-lovers installment, the respect and regard for each other makes it feel more like compassionate competition than enemies, which on the whole is much much more convincing. And oh boy, has her writing matured.
The things that floor me and resonate with me as a reader are the way I can feel intensely for the main characters immediately, add they aren't hard to understand, and it's not in some "tell" fashion. She builds worlds and settings: here an apartment and its mostly senior tenants, along with our two main characters. Will is...sigh. Nora...I understood her deeply.
Will. Will is rootless. (I honestly started my review early because I started to feel bogged down in emotion and was worried that it would end up saying "Erp," and indeed, Clayborn's demonstration of Will tumbling along plays out delicately without being frustrating.) And what better than to have him discover himself where everyone's roots are deep and entrenched and the branches are many.
Here's the thing. She builds intimacy and revelations through everyday scenes (again) and Will and Nora feeling too off-guard in their teensy-bit adversarial relationship. But also, the sense of ache I'm coming to recognize as "Clayborn-heartache" builds slowly in this one. So slowly, that at 50% I realized my chest was hurting and I was a bit heartbroken for the two grieving main characters. However, it's this vulnerability that lends itself to how inescapable the love and love scenes feel. And I mean, Will literally suffers from the Falconbridge syndrome of first kisses. So inevitable. And so right.
And the way she uses time and the golden hour. Ugh. So many ways. Kind of like how the title of the book was really clear, until she punched me in the gut with it (I might have sob-guffawed?) I thought the use of sight-glasses-and frankly tomatoes were brilliant and squishy and probably richer than I could ever capture. In employing all these things, these improvements,these settings, these shrines, Kate Clayborn also deftly creates a way for the present-day characters to reconcile themselves with their past-and to make a believable peace with it. I'm...it was...I'm in awe.
And Nora. One of my strongest childhood relationships was with my grandmother. (Nora spent summers through her late childhood and teen years w/ her Nonna) I had separation anxiety throughout most of my young years, but I could stay and travel with my grandparents. She died when I was quite young, but I look like her, got some qualities of hers, and will never forget when I once woke up in their house and started crying bc I was all alone (I didnt ever have my own bedroom!) And she said "hush. I'm right here." Not in a comforting way. In a "I'd never leave you, dummy" way. So elements of grief I get. Loyalty and sentimentality I get. Grandmothers and granddaughters. The way they actually do influence you. And the way your life and person feels like a mash up of who they were, and that it is easy to build a shrine of material things around you instead of letting go.
And my God, Gerald Abraham. I mean all the secondary characters, really. But he is my favorite. So I'm just leaving this here.
I think Kate Clayborn understands love and vulnerability in many different ways. I'm sure a lot of people do. But what she's proving here is that she can tackle universal themes without being tired, she can write character-driven novels that are sneaky and unique. She can break our heart quietly with her pen. What's clear to me, above all else here, is that she's dedicated to a craft and constant improvement. She's giving us what we as readers deserve. I don't think it's hyperbole. I think she's exceptional, and in my opinion looking at her record thusfar, unmatched in contemporary romance.
I'd like to thank Netgalley & Kensington for the ARC. This has not affected my review in anyway, and to prove it, I will own this book in 2 formats at a minimum. I'm only sorry you all have to wait until February for it.
So, full disclosure, Kate is a friend of mine, so know that going in. But this book FUCKING WRECKED ME in the best way.
I don't want to spoil it, but I just think it's perfect and beautiful and I cried at the end, and this book is basically the platonic ideal of a romance for me. SO MANY FEELINGS. This book would be a great into to the genre for someone looking to dive in, but it also reminded this die hard romance fan of why I love the genre.
It's beautiful and perfect and I know I'm just gushing but it's how I feeeeeeeeeeel.
This was ok. I expected to like it as much as I liked Love Lettering, but that wasn't the case.
The storyline is interesting, but the characters aren't. I found them to be one-dimensional and uninteresting. For the most part, the story felt repetitive and uninspired. I expected much more from this story.
I'll look forward to more by this author, but this one was a miss for me.
2020 Winter Bingo (#SnowInLoveBingo❄️): Feels Like Home
LOVE AT FIRST is fine, but I also don’t feel the “OMG, this is a life-transforming romance novel and I want to yell at everyone to read it” buzz I usually get from KC’s work. Maybe it’s unfair that my ridiculously high expectations made this an overall okay/forgettable read after a couple days.
So this next bit is minor in the grand scheme of things, but I do want to discuss it (just because it’s minor doesn’t mean it’s not interesting or important): there are no racial/skin color descriptors for secondary and main characters. LOVE AT FIRST is set in Chicago. It’s not a big deal for the main characters because I’m sure they’re white. There’s one secondary South Asian character named Deepa (no physical or cultural description. I’m assuming from the name). There’s a neighboring couple with the surname Salas, so I guess they could be Latinx? If not, maybe Spanish/Portuguese origin. Impossible to tell if they’re white or BIPOC since there aren’t cultural/physical indicators other than the surname (wife’s first name is Corrine, husband name isn’t revealed). Except for these two cases, I have zero clue for the other dozen secondary characters.
I don’t know. I don’t think it’s BAD. I just think it’s real weird that ambiguous/lack of descriptions allow readers to plausibly assume that dozens of secondary characters are white on page, especially when the book is set in Chicago of all places. CHICAGO! Like, the text doesn’t confirm they’re white. But it doesn’t say otherwise either. Even for the exceptions I noted above, there aren’t cultural indicators (food, language, etc) that confirm details besides the name. I kept waiting for hints to figure out the Salas cultural/racial background (they didn’t come).
TBH, using only names as an indicator of diversity is not super helpful/great background rep. My views on physical description and the white default have evolved in the past couple years. It’s not going to affect my rating, but it’s definitely irritating when I can’t figure out the race/cultural background of secondary/minor characters in a book.
I don’t care if a family/friend group is all-white, but I’m talking about an entire NEIGHBORHOOD of secondary/minor characters. Dozens of characters! And maybe that area of Chicago IS majority white, but the ambiguity frustrated me. I think something similar occurs in NYC-set LOVE LETTERING but I didn’t notice it. Perhaps it wasn’t an issue because that book doesn’t have many secondary characters.
Anyway, I don’t have a lot more to say because I’m not certain why LOVE AT FIRST didn’t wow me. Who knows why my brain reacts the way it does? Will update review if I figure it out. It’s entirely possible that a year of pandemic reading has warped my reading preferences. 😭
Disclaimer: I received a free e-ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I've given this an A- at AAR, so 4.5 stars rounded up.
Kate Clayborn’s Love at First is one of those books that you immediately feel has wrapped you up in a warm hug, and in which the characters and their story creep gradually and unobtrusively under your skin and wind around your heartstrings. Ms. Clayborn is one of my few go-to contemporary romance authors, and this book demonstrates yet again exactly why that is; this is a beautifully understated but gloriously romantic love story full of poignancy and tenderness featuring fully-rounded, supremely relatable characters with ordinary, everyday lives and ordinary, everyday problems.
We first meet Will Sterling when he’s around fifteen, and his mother has taken him to meet the uncle he never knew existed. He has no idea why they’re there, and while he’s waiting outside the apartment block for his mother, he hears a girl’s laughter coming from somewhere above him. He looks up to the balcony and even though he can’t see her clearly (he’s short sighted and needs glasses) Will is immediately captivated. Something about her – the swishing of her sleek ponytail, her animated gestures, the sound of her voice – calls to him and he stands watching while he can hear his mother and uncle arguing in the background.
Sixteen years later, Will is a dedicated and hard-working ER doctor when he discovers that his uncle Donny has died and left him his apartment. Will doesn’t want it – thinking about the things he’d learned that day so many years ago, or about his long-deceased parents stirs up too many painful, unresolved emotions – but under the terms of the bequest, he can’t sell the place for a year, so he decides instead to fit it out for short-term lets until he can legally dispose of it.
Unlike Will, Eleanora – Nora – Clarke has very fond memories of the apartment building where she spent so much of her childhood, and regards the other (mostly elderly) inhabitants as family. The only child of two archaeologists who spent most of their time away on one dig or another, Nora lived with her grandmother during the summers and has, following Nonna’s recent death, come back to Chicago to live. Moving from San Diego, adjusting to remote working and struggling to cope with grief over her Nonna’s death has led to bouts of interrupted sleep, and now, a few months later, the hour between four and five in the morning has become her ‘Golden Hour’, a time for coffee and quiet reflection before confronting the day. She knows the habits of her neighbours well, so when, on one particular morning, she wakes to hear someone else moving around on one of the balconies, she knows it must be someone new. She ventures outside, and looking down, sees a man standing quietly, his handsome face cast in light and shadow from the glow coming from inside… and feels suddenly that this is someone she should meet.
Will and Nora engage in a short conversation, but they don’t see each other again until a few weeks later, during the meeting of the residents Nora convenes after learning of Will’s plan to let out Donny’s – Will’s – apartment to short term renters. She’s outraged – and the other tenants are worried – at the prospect of a steady stream of strangers coming and going, hating the idea of breaking up their close-knit community – and determines to come up with ways to get Will to change his mind. She thinks if she can get him to see the unique qualities of the building and the people in it, he will fall in love with it (and them) too, and abandon his plan.
For the first part of the book, Nora and Will are at odds, he spending a couple of weeks clearing out and renovating his apartment, she trying to slow him down, put him off and generally make things difficult for him. It’s a bit childish, sure, but for Nora, this is the family unit she’s never really had, and losing that on top of losing her Nonna is just too much to face. And for Will, it’s the place where his life changed forever and he all he wants to do is leave behind the memories of the hurt and disappointment he associates with it.
But even though they want completely different things, neither of them can deny the strong pull of attraction they feel towards one another. The chemistry between them is intense yet understated, and their interactions are awkward and lovely, a mixture of unutterable tenderness and raw vulnerability as they begin to learn about and love each other, slowly helping one another to let go of the things that hurt them and are holding them back. I loved the way the author slowly reveals their truths – to the reader and to each other – showing not only how their pasts have shaped them but also their dawning awareness that those pasts don’t define them and that they can choose another path.
Nora’s neighbours are quirky and wonderfully drawn, as is Will’s uptight but insightful boss, and I loved the found family aspect of the story, the idea that we can choose who to love and surround ourselves with by sharing our hearts and our truest selves.
I had just two minor quibbles, which account for the A- rather than a full-on A. Firstly, I didn’t care for the way Nora treats Will near the end; okay, so it’s a very stressful time but it still felt cold. Also, I’m not a fan of romances where friends or family have to provide a very big nudge to get the protagonists to see what is under their respective noses; I much prefer them to work it out for themselves.
Apart from that though, Love at First is, quite simply, a delightful love story. It’s not flashy or drama-filled; it’s a quiet, heartfelt and deeply emotional tale in which the romance builds slowly and organically, the character development is incredible yet subtle, and the regard and respect the two leads have for one another – even when they’re on opposite sides – infuse every page. I’m sure Kate Clayborn’s many fans will need no urging to pick up this latest release, but if you’ve never read one of her books, Love at First would be a wonderful place to start. Strongly recommended.
While the writing is excellent, nearly lyrical at times, the story was a bit plodding and the characters felt, I dunno, unfinished? Or maybe I mean incomplete?
Nora is a designer who hates change. She's staying in an apartment left to her by her Nonna and she hasn't changed anything beyond the bare essentials to work remote from the apartment she inherited. And since her Nonna had the same mentality of being unable to get rid of anything, it comes across as a right mess. And Clayborn is author-enough that the sense of clashing clutter comes through just fine. So not only has this got to be uncomfortable on a space/efficiency level, but the aesthetic presentation has to be awful. So why isn't her designer soul crying itself to sleep every night? Like, Clayborn tells us this is a designer, but there's no evidence of that anywhere else in the narrative. Which is to say that I had Nora in the "generic soft-hearted romantic girl" slot and she never felt more real than that.
And Will was nearly as bad. He's a collection of traits that never felt quite real. Like, he's personable and charming and we're told (and witness a little) that he can win people over easily and that he's good at fitting in. Only, his background includes parents so wrapped up in each other that they neglected Will and made him feel like an outsider in his own home. And because he's stupid, he figures he's probably just like them and thus is afraid to become attached to people because it'll make him selfish and flaky. So not only is this a giant negative motivation* in developing a relationship with Nora, but it also makes it hard to buy the whole charm narrative we're fed over and over again. Which is to say that I had Will in the "generic emotionally-stunted romantic boy" slot and he never felt more real than that.
And since the plot rolled along exactly to order with all the turns and moves I expected (including a couple of pull-backs that didn't quite add up to a dark moment), I had a hard time taking it seriously. If the writing had been pedestrian I'd have likely fallen out of the story just a little ways in. And the side characters were a little delightful, too, so they helped keep me engaged.
So this is three stars and I'm a bit sad it never made it past that mark. I almost bumped it up with the awesome ending because it was both sweet and deeper than I had come to expect by that time. But too little too late and I'm keeping the three.
A note about Steamy: There's a single explicit sex scene that is long and almost perfect for the characters and I liked it a lot. There are a few callbacks and little intimacies, as well, but not enough to move this out of the low end of my steam tolerance.
* Negative Motivations: I kind of hate that the term "negative motivation" isn't widespread, yet. Since it isn't, I'm going to save off this little jag to append to my reviews that feature the term. Jennifer Crusie blogged about it a bit back (or, if that link doesn't work, here's a cache of the original) and it changed how I understand story. The problem with the term is that if you've never heard it before, you'd assume it meant motivations that are harmful or immoral. Not so. What it refers to is motivations not to do something. The thing is that many of us are motivated to not do things for a lot of different, perfectly valid and reasonable, reasons. The problem is that in a story motivations to not do things are a huge drag on the plot—particularly considering the fact that most negative motivations are overcome by the character simply deciding they don't care any more (or, rather, that they do care and are now motivated to do the thing). So not only do you have a counter to action but you also have a situation where to overcome it, all a character has to do is change their mind. Which means eventually, the reader is rooting for the character to get over him/herself already and do the thing we want them to do. Conflict drives story. Conflict between a reader and a main character drives readers away from story.
Love at First by Kate Clayborn is a cute second chance romance with great characters. When visiting his uncle Will saw the girl of his dreams and now sixteen years later, he moves into his uncle’s old apartment. Nora and Will have an instant spark that Nora refuses to admit. She is too busy keeping Will from renting out his apartment to allow a connection between them. They start a rivalry with Nora lightly sabotaging Will and some neighborly rivalry. Nora tries to show Will how tight knit their community is but some of it is fabricated. Will and Nora are both enjoyable characters. There were many times I laughed. I was rooting for them the whole time. I really enjoyed all of the characters and their interactions. The story is cute and entertaining throughout the book. Love at First is my new favorite book by Kate Clayborn.
Thank you Kensington, Edelweiss, and Goodreads Giveaways for Love at First.
I think I own almost every single Kate Clayborn book but this is the first book by Kate Clayborn that I finish completely. (I say completely because I've read 2 chapters of Love Lettering but haven't yet continued!). Love at First is simply one of the best books of this year. Yes, we are in February still, and I haven't yet read a lot of 2021 books, okay. But this book? Unmatched.
Balcony talks, kittens, cherry tomatoes, second chances. I haven't stopped crying since I finished this book, I still feel my face all hot and tired from all the tears I have cried. One of the best love confessions I have ever read. But I think it's because it was Nora and Will, and because of their history together. It's also because of Kate's writing; so lyrical, so poetic, so beautiful. As I said before, this is my first Clayborn book, so I didn't really know what to expect, only knew that I was going to probably love it a lot. But now, having read LOVE AT FIRST, and actually got to know Kate's writing and craft, I'm obsessed.
Will, the guy who has come into Nora's life, ready to disrupt every single thing she has carefully protected. She doesn't want anything to change, but Will is that silent typhoon who really doesn't know the effect he has. Will, the guy who wants to be loved for the first time. Who really has always craved a family. And now, coming into this building, meeting all these different personalities, the neighbors, who are all a family, his life is forever going to change.
PS. I love when a romance book has a "person a is sick and person b is going to take care of them, cook them food, buy their medicine, stay by their side" scene. Happy to tell you this one has one.
My apologies but this will not be a very coherent review. I might be entering a "Kate Clayborn can do no wrong" phase. Each book I pick up by KC has gotten my emotions engaged and made me relate to the characters in ways that I don't expect. This was no exception. So, I just want to note that since I strongly suspect that I am now in such a phase with author, my bias will be unchecked and gushing may ensue.
I don't think this was the best book by KC, but it's my favorite for the moment -- until a new one comes out or I reread another. Just as she's done in each of her offerings, there is precise and exquisite care in giving these characters the right story. I love the themes of found family and lonely souls finding a right fit with each other. I enjoyed how the past defined their interactions and the coming awareness that it doesn't define them now and how they go forward. I loved both Nora and Will. They were worthy, relatable leads.
This book deserves a lot more than what I am going to be able to write. I think the main point I want to say is that the plot, setup to this story matters less than the fact that KC chose to write it. If it's not a trope you like or it doesn't sound interesting to you, just know that the character-development is worth it. I'm totally biased at this point, but KC could write anything and I would read it.
I'm floored. I'm wrung out, but it was totally worth.
Thank you to NetGalley and the published for a chance to read and review this book. Views are my own.
It was time for a sweet book to warm my heart. After enjoying Kate Clayborn’s last book Love Lettering, I had high hopes that Love at First would fit the bill. It did.
This is the story of Will and Nora. While at the apartment building of his uncle, Will, a teenager, observes Nora from afar and he is smitten. She was unaware of his presence. Sixteen years later, Will has inherited the apartment from his uncle and Nora is living in the apartment of her deceased grandmother. The small building is filled with interesting people that have become a close-knit, extended family. Will has no desire to live there and wants to arrange for short-term rentals of the apartment. Nora leads the charge to stop Will and all the residents set a plan in motion to protect their building from having a steady flow of tenants. Will has a hard time getting close to people but this group of loving people prove hard to resist even as they try to stop his plans. This is especially true of Nora, who Will realizes is the girl he fell for. And Nora can’t escape her attraction to Will.
This is a delightful story because the characters are so engaging. Beyond Will and Nora, the wonderful secondary characters add lots of heart showing that love and family can come from many places. Love at First was a welcome break from the heavier books I’ve been reading. It’s nice to read a book that makes you swoon.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Kensington Books and Ms. Clayborn for the opportunity to read Love at First in advance of its February 23, 2021 publication.
3.5 stars - This is my second book from this author, and I'm very taken with her prose style. It's unique to the American contemporary romances I've encountered, and it reads much more like some of the British romcoms I've read (think someone like Beth O'Leary). This is a nice slow burn-y kind of contemporary with a light hate to love element, lots of found family, KITTENS, and some lovely meditations on processing grief.
I'm not typically a romantic fiction reader. If you look at my reviews, I have about 7 genres I enjoy and I do like drama's especially family relationship challenges, so this squeaked into my reading pile.
So, here's the thing, not liking all the swooning stuff and pretty tired of the template of enemies to lovers plots, I generally go for the more creative and unique stories. I was hopeful that this would incorporate a more family style setting. It did, and did it well.
So, I'm not going to sit here and tell you what an accomplished and clever author Kate Clayborn is. I'm not going to mention that the characters were well developed and they managed to overlook things that don't matter to focus on the things that do. I'm not going to whisper an aside about the insights each flawed character realizes that interferes with their realizing true happiness. Nor will I even suggest that this novel has some valuable thoughts that the reader can apply to their own world. Nope, I just don't want to preach to you all the great things you'll find between these pages because I want to only focus on how touching I found the situation and the growth of the characters as the story progressed.
I really want instead to focus on how I don't usually react in an emotional way but did this time. I want to say, this gem is more about self-discovery than a simple "wow, now I realize that my pain was hiding my true feelings about my deep love for you!" format. This simply more of a love story than a standard romance. That is why you should read it.
Thank you so much to the author, Kate Clayborn, Kensington Books and Goodreads for making this book in ARC form available for me to read in exchange for my honest opinion.
*I do wish to say, I was disappointed in the very graphic portray of sexual activities in this story particularly pages 178 through 188 of the ARC, after I read nearly two pages, I skimmed the remaining 8 because for me, it was unnecessary, too descriptive and bordered on porn, which I avoid. I am disappointed that authors and publishers include this type of filler to sell books. It actually interrupted the flow and based on the character's behaviors before and after, didn't seem to even be placed appropriately. I debated removing one star as a result but since I don't know if it is removed or modified in the final copy, I'll leave it at 5.
And this, my friends, is why good cover art is oh so very important. You see, I was one of the naysayers who did not enjoy Love Lettering by this author. HOWEVER, I was more than willing to give her a second chance because I am nothing if not a wrongreader and when I recognized this cover immediately I snatched it up from the library. And guess what? I loved the dang thing . . . .
Kate Clayborn straight up murders my heart. She takes a beautiful, handcrafted dagger made of silver and studded with precious gems and stabs me directly in my heart with these books. And I will let her do it over and over and over again.
I'd like to sit down with Ms. Clayborn and talk about love. I bet it would be an amazing conversation. I'd be very tempted to ask how she manages to distill feelings into words that are so heartbreakingly lovely I kind of want to die when I read them. Not literally of course but I'm forever having to put the book down and just kind of mutter "oh...oh my" for a little while until I can stop thinking about my high school boyfriends or that guy I saw in the subway that time who was so beautiful or the million and one times I fell instantly in love with some stranger on the street and get back to reading.
This is the story of Nora and Will who didn't quite meet as teenagers when Will's mother dragged him to the strange, kind of rundown complex of apartments where her estranged brother lived and Nora spent her summers with her beloved Nonna. That night, while his mother screamed back and forth with his uncle Will stood outside and completely, totally fell in honest and true love with Nora without even seeing her face clearly. He stood in the dark yard of a strange place and listened to her laugh and yell to her grandmother that the squirrels were stealing tomatoes from the plants on their balcony and just as he was about to say hello he heard something else. A dark and truly horrible thing that changed him, erased the perfect moment he was drifting in and turned him into someone else.
Sixteen years later, at the same apartment, they meet again. They are heartbroken, damaged and carrying the heaviest baggage imaginable and yet the same things that made Will fall so hopelessly in love are still there for him and when Nora sets eyes on him it is Romeo and Juliet times a thousand.
This is yet another one of those reads that I can't go into too deeply as far as story because its such a gorgeous journey through the rivers and eddies of love in all its many splendored forms and you just need to enjoy the voyage for yourself.
I knew I was going to marry my husband the night we first met. I tell people that story all the damn time and I don't think anyone believes me but its true. Its possible to see someone and just know. But if I didn't already know Kate Clayborn would make a believer out of me in one chapter.
In Kate Clayborn's new rom-com, Love At First, you realize that sometimes the past brings you comfort, but you have to focus on the future in order to find happiness.
He fell in love with her voice. As a teenager, Will was standing under an apartment balcony when he heard the voice of the girl of his dreams. He never actually saw her, but from the joyful tone of her voice, he just knew. But moments later his life was changed by something he overheard, and he soon forgot about the girl on the balcony.
Sixteen years later, Will has returned, as he has inherited an apartment in the same building from someone he never knew. Now an overworked doctor, he plans to clear out the apartment and get it sold as quickly as possible, although he has to consider a temporary solution first. But then he hears a familiar voice from a balcony above—it couldn’t possibly be her, could it?
This apartment building has been Nora’s home since she moved in with her elderly grandmother, but she used to spend her summers there since childhood. She doesn’t take kindly to Will’s plans for his apartment and how it will affect the family unit she and her fellow tenants have formed. It doesn’t matter how handsome and charming he may be—he must be stopped.
As Nora sets out to foil Will’s plans, she’s not above a little bit of friendly sabotage. And as much as her interference stirs up memories for Will he’d rather not deal with, he can’t deny that Nora is irresistible to him, and he wonders if he should let another chance with the girl from the balcony pass him by. Nora, fighting her own attraction to Will, must also decide whether loyalty to her grandmother means staying rooted in the past or moving forward.
Love At First is a cute story about second chances, trusting your heart, and finding comfort in familiarity. I felt like Nora and Will's chemistry was a little more slow-burn than a lot of rom-coms (the whole story seemed slower to gel at first) but there was definitely some steam when they finally got together.
If you’ve not read Kate Clayborn’s Love Lettering, and you’re a rom-com fan, definitely pick that one up.